Concerns about COVID-19 continue to keep many of us at home for much of the day. While the lack of a daily commute and driving the kids to school may have felt like a nice break at first, many people are feeling the effects of the ongoing pandemic on their health, lifestyle, social lives and more. How do you maintain your physical and emotional health during COVID?
While there is nothing “normal” about being quarantined, it can be helpful to try to maintain your usual routines as much as possible. If you normally woke up, exercised, showered and went to work before the pandemic, sticking to that routine at home can help provide a sense of normalcy to your day in times of uncertainty.
Throughout the day, try to take positive steps in four areas — movement, nutrition, sleep and social connections — to help you stay focused on your health and well-being.
Aim to get some type of exercise most days — you’ll benefit both physically and psychologically. The current recommendation for adults is 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. How you do that is up to you. Some people prefer to exercise first thing in the morning, while others prefer afternoon workouts. Working or having kids learning remotely at home may disrupt your usual exercise routines, so you may find it easier to do 10- or 15-minute sessions a few times a day.
If you had been working out at a gym but no longer can due to restricted access or schedule changes, explore other options. Installing a pull-up bar in a doorway, buying dumbbells or exercising with resistance bands as shown in the video can provide strength training at home. There are hundreds of free and low-cost workouts online as well.
Weather permitting, you can run, walk, hike, cycle or swim outdoors. Not only will you get the benefits of exercise, spending time in nature has been shown to have a positive impact on mood.
It’s easy to overeat when you’re in close proximity to the kitchen all day, so stock your refrigerator and pantry with nutritious choices. Whole grains, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, and lean meat, poultry and fish are all good options for meals. Snack on fresh fruit, yogurt and popcorn. Try to minimize processed, sugary and greasy foods.
Need a treat? “Dark chocolate is wonderful,” says Dr. Hillinger. “Just look for it to be over 70 percent dark, so you'll get those great antioxidants.”
Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation; some data suggests that average alcohol intake has increased during the pandemic.
Quality sleep is vital to good health, especially during stressful times. The optimal amount of sleep for most people is between seven and nine hours per night; take steps to get the sleep you need.
“I always talk about having a ritual when we’re getting ready to go to sleep, whether that is drinking your favorite cup of tea, reading a few pages of a book, or reading to your children,“ says Dr. Hillinger. “Make sure you’re powering down any electronics an hour before you actually want to be sleeping.”
Exercise during the day will help with sleep, as will avoiding caffeine and alcohol for several hours before bedtime. Also, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps your body establish a sleep schedule.
Isolation from family and friends is probably one of the most difficult aspects of COVID life. Even if you can’t have large in-person gatherings, it’s important to maintain social connections. There are still ways to do that, such as meeting friends for socially distanced walks, gathering with family online via Zoom or checking in over the phone.
“This is hugely important. We are definitely social beings, and even small interactions can go a really long way to making us feel connected,” says Dr. Hillinger. “Reach out to people in your social network to help you make healthy lifestyle changes.”
The benefits go beyond staying healthy during quarantine. Employing healthy lifestyle techniques can also help prevent chronic illnesses like heart disease and certain cancers.